You probably know iRobot for inventing the Roomba. But like most robotics companies, iRobot has always worked on more serious government projects, such as military reconnaissance, too. Now Helen Greiner, one of the iRobot co-founders, has received more than $2 million in government grants for CyPhy Works, a new company that is building unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for search and rescue missions and, wait for it, bridge inspection. No, it’s not as glamorous as, say, floor-cleaning technology, but modernizing bridge inspection techniques is extremely important.
Despite all our technological advances, bridges are still primarily inspected by hand. It’s a process that can be both dangerous and ineffective. Several researchers have been working to develop automated bridge inspection systems over the past decade or so, but, for the most part, the process has remained pretty much the same for a hundred years: A guy with special pliers pries apart bridge cables and looks for damage, such as corrosion. It’s about as high-tech as door-to-door mail delivery.
Given the crumbling state of America’s bridges (more than 25% are structurally deficient, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers), CyPhy Works definitely deserves points for good will. But they might want to consider another name change. The company’s original name was The Droid Works, which they ostensibly changed to avoid confusion with Motorola’s Droid phone. (Isn’t the Nexus One going to kill that soon, anyway?) But between this and the newly re-branded SyFy channel, geeks are going to be confused about how to spell their favorite word. Droid Works, er, CyPhy, stick to bridge maintenance and leave spelling alone.